48 Hours in Vegas
Trade in Las Vegas’s all-you-can-eat buffets for a sip of the high life.
Amid the neon wedding chapels, chirping slot machines and The Hangover copycat crews, Las Vegas has cultivated a sophisticated side that revels in craft cocktails and inventive menus from the next generation of superstar chefs.
The weekend starts with a view from the top: a seat at the bar tucked within the oversized beaded crystal chandelier (the place is called, strangely enough, The Chandelier) that dangles above The Cosmopolitan’s lobby. Property mixologist Mariena Mercer runs her innovative bar program with a warm smile and sharp wit, serving up boozy ice cream concoctions (like rum-spiked butter pecan, cooled dramatically—this is Vegas, after all—with liquid nitrogen). The citrusy Verbena cocktail isn’t on the menu, but order one anyway: garnished with an electrifying Szechuan flower bud that intensifies flavours, it’s a bigger thrill than you’ll get from the New York-New York rooftop roller coaster.
Tastebuds still tingling, stroll down the strip for a good dose of people watching before your reservation at the Mandarin Oriental’s Mozen Bistro, where a thorough sake program pairs tall glasses of vibrant and varied rice wines, some made from hand-polished grains, with plates of fresh blue crab, eel and avocado rolls and delicately sliced tuna tataki drizzled with truffle oil and yuzu.
Of course, you’re going to grab a nightcap—you’re not an animal—before you head to your room at the chic Palms Place. (It’s a little off the strip, but the boutique hotel is a welcome retreat from the bustle—and, because it’s also a condo tower, the modern suites are among the few in town with balconies.) An evolving cocktail from mixologist Craig Schoettler at Aria’s Sage might start off as an expertly crafted Manhattan, but a burnt sugar ice cube dissolves slowly to transform the classic recipe into a lovely Old Fashioned.
Simon Restaurant and Lounge, Iron Chef Kerry Simon’s seasonally driven collaboration with Palms Place, contrasts a sleek interior with a delightfully over-the-top brunch. If the gourmet Rice Krispie treats and pillows of cotton candy that cover the upscale junk food table seem a little juvenile, pair just them with a decidedly adult accessory: an elaborately garnished cocktail (think beef jerky, stuffed olives and 10 varieties of hot sauce) from the over-the-top custom Bloody Mary buffet.
Splurge on an inner tube and spend the afternoon soaking up the sun while lazily floating past waterfalls and under bridges along the quarter-mile river pool at the MGM Grand. Skip the overpriced, too-sweet poolside drinks and wait for something special at happy hour—the glam, gold-tinged Andrea’s at the Wynn crafts creative beer cocktails, like the ask-for-by-name Elyxer, a boozy mix of Absolut, Aperol and a splash of dry vermouth, or the Dream, a pricey little number that marries St. Germain with Perrier-Jouët Champagne and hibiscus. Pair with some share plates—like ume vinaigrette-tinged snap peas and Nashi pear with crispy shiitake mushrooms—off the robust vegan menu (designed by “the conscious cook” Joseph Elevado) to complement your libations.
The 20,000-square-foot Hakkasan feels surprisingly intimate, perhaps due to the intricate latticed woodwork and abstract Calacatta marble cut-outs that divide the space. Down in the attached 60,000-square-foot club, star DJs (whatever that means) enthrall Red Bull-fuelled crowds, but the restaurant puts on a show in its own right: pluck steamed black pepper duck dumplings from bamboo boxes and pass around platters of melt-in-your-mouth silver cod roasted in Champagne and honey, and sip on rounds of Buddha’s Palm, which tranforms bourbon, black grapes, balsamic vinegar and mint into something otherworldly.
Forget the mimosa: the best part of breakfast at Central is requesting a frothy, citrusy Ramos gin fizz (the original New Orleans recipe called for the mixture to be shaken for 12 minutes by a team of barmen). But while you’ve got the menu from chef Michel Richard (a James Beard award winner) in front of you, you may as well order a plate of decadent crème brûlée-stuffed French toast smothered in fresh berries. Properly satiated, it’s time to hit the vibey Palms where Ghostbar, their daylight-hours club, is worth a visit for the spectacle alone before you head to the airport. Slip past cartoonishly beautiful women on stilts to get to this buzzy room on the hotel’s 55th floor. It’s here that committed club-goers start the party early (or keep the party going from the night before) in outrageous costumes on the dance floor, but beyond their revelry lies a buzzy patio bar that overlooks the entire glittering strip. For a calming juxtaposition, stop by the hotel’s more sedate Scarlet on your way down. Unlike its thumping brethren, this low-key spot seats only six, making it the perfect place to toss back one last farewell drink before you go.